NABISCO DOUBLES AD $ FOR SNACKWELL'S PUSH: $6O MIL BEHIND NEW POSITION AS ESTEEM BOOSTER

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Even though its comeback strategy for SnackWell's revolves around a taste reformulation with added fat and indulgent flavors, Nabisco Biscuit Co.'s new ads for the brand barely mention taste.

Instead, the estimated $60 million TV effort breaking today elevates eating SnackWell's products to an act of self-affirmation.

"Live well, snack well" is the theme in the two new spots from Foote, Cone & Belding, New York, showing scenes of women in warm family embraces. Snackwell's, states the voice-over, isn't about feeding yourself but "feeding your self-esteem," "treating yourself well," and "fulfilling yourself."

The only references to a change in the product's formulation are the lines "all, new, rich, luscious" Snackwell's and "better than ever, simply better for you."

MORE THAN TWICE `97

The campaign will be supported by a budget twice that of last year; '97 spending for the brand was measured at $28 million by Competitive Media Reporting.

"In preparing for a relaunch these last nine months, we did a lot of digging in with consumers," said Terry Preskar, senior business director for SnackWell's. "We've found that there's less of a focus on body image, less on diet. Women want to celebrate the things they do right."

With the new ads, SnackWell's has come a long way from its "Cookie Man" ads. When the products hit the market in late 1992, Nabisco wasn't able to supply enough cookies to meet demand, inspiring the ad icon of a fictional Nabisco employee shadowed by women hunting down SnackWell's products.

Nabisco extended and licensed the name beyond cookies and crackers, and by 1995 the brand had rung up sales of $476 million.

"We couldn't have expected that kind of growth to continue," Ms. Preskar said.

It didn't, particularly as competitors moved into the marketplace.

OUTSIDE COMPETITION

"The major competition was outside the category," said Ms. Preskar, from Frito-Lay's Baked Lay's chips and Hershey Chocolate USA's Sweet Escapes candy bars. "But it impacted us."

Moreover, Nabisco Biscuit companywide was cutting marketing spending.

"It was across the board," said Ms. Preskar, noting that "if you're not talking to consumers, you can't expect them to remember you."

The result: Sales slid to $364 million for the overall trademark in 1996 and took another dive to $274 million last year.

SnackWell's also was hurt by a movement away from "healthy" and "diet" products.

Nabisco, however, maintains SnackWell's is still on line with a trend.

"Fat is still far and away the No. 1" concern of consumers, said Ms. Preskar.

The new advertising will be supplemented by sampling and couponing to support two new items, Mint Cremes and Caramel Delights cookies.

Information Resources Inc. figures show SnackWell's cookie sales down 23.6% for the 52 weeks ended May 24, to $146.8 million, and crackers falling 28.6% to $38.6 million.

DOUBTS FROM AN ANALYST

Ms. Preskar said she's aiming to at least stem the declines by yearend.

Observers aren't so sure.

"The whole concept-eating cookies to lose weight-is ridiculous," said DLJ Securities analyst William Leach, who nonetheless noted that "SnackWell's problems are not terminal. Anything they can do to change the emphasis from a dietetic product to a more healthful line" would help.

Nabisco's stated intention to increase ad spending "has knocked the stuffing out of its stock the last few weeks," Mr. Leach said. But "it's what they should be doing, even though it may be painful [for earnings] in the short term."

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